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The Artist’s Way – week eleven

Overview

A sudden family bereavement last week has knocked us all for a loop and I’m at a loss as to what to do next. But I’m alive and I have to keep going, despite the loss. I don’t want to dwell on it – it feels like I’ve done nothing but talk about it and I’ve got nothing to say that I haven’t already said over and over.

As far as The Artist’s Way goes, I’m still struggling on. I have lingering feelings of “doing it wrong” for taking over a year to do this instead of 12 weeks, but this is my project, not anyone else’s, and – although I want it to be done – I’m not planning on rushing the last week just to get it over with.

One if this week’s exercises is to record your artist’s prayer and use it for meditation. Well, I completely forgot about all that almost as soon as I made the recording, and my meditation practice is less regular than I’d like. Something to works on, and this week’s exercises have given me a better direction for the future.

Regarding synchronisity (something Cameron is keen on, as a sign from a supportive creator), there have been a few things this month. My house has been a constant source of stress for a while now and, as it was coming to a head, the internet lit up with chatter about Marie Kondo. Since my sister had lent me the book, I got stuck in and even the small changes I’ve made so far have improved my mental health considerably. A letter promising a financial windfall – from a legitimate source, and unrelated to last week’s bereavement – arrived just as some unanticipated outgoings left us short.

Morning pages

I’m getting more consistent, and building up a good streak, but weekends still defeat me. I’m still not sure how I’m supposed to fit three pages of longhand into half an hour, but it doesn’t matter. I’m doing my thing, my way.

Artist’s date

I don’t think I did one this month. I went on new adventures, visited new places and made time to play, but Cameron stipulates that this is “artist alone-time”. My play-time this month wasn’t creative, but it was necessary.

I’m slowly getting more comfortable making space for play, though I’m not consistent with it yet, and it isn’t a habit. However, despite what Cameron says, I think there’s space for play-time which other people; I can isolate myself very easily, and minigolf isn’t much fun on your own!

Verdict

A mixed month, all in all. Up until last week, I’d have said it was going pretty well and I was optimistic about the future. I suppose I still am, but – for obvious reasons – I’m feeling somewhat subdued right now.

But I have a plan, and I’m setting goals and working towards them. I’m using the morning pages to identify stressors and dealing with them as I recognise them, and I’m slowly growing into the kind of person I want to be.

Retrospective: Generosity and Greed

This picture had an incredibly challenging gestation. I pushed myself hard and learned a lot about a lot of things – colour, composition, and time management, amongst others – but, in the end, I definitely bit off more than I could chew. While I’m not unhappy with the result, I’ve definitely reached a point where my technical skill is outstripped by my vision.

Original concept
Original concept
Value thumbnails for the second version
Value thumbnails for the second version

I started over twice, the first time working up a low-res copy of a sketch I doodled a year previously on a piece of software I don’t have access to any more. Then, once I’d got to the colour comp stage, I put it aside to work on a time-limited project (Hound of the Baskervilles).

Colour thumbnails for second version
Colour thumbnails for second version

When I came back to it, it was several months later and I’d picked up a new Special Interest: runes. I redrew the thumbnails, trying to do something clever with runes and sigils and compositional armatures that ultimately didn’t work.

Value thumbnails for third version
Value thumbnails for third version

My original plan had been to paint this piece in encaustic (wax paint) on cradled board, but time and space constraints pushed me back to a digital workflow and that brought a raft of special problems. Namely: colour.

Since starting my mental health recovery, I’m fascinated with hyper-saturated colour. What little work I did during my illness was desaturated, bordering on monochrome, and working out colour palettes and exercising restraint weren’t really necessary. Happily, that’s not the case any more. On the other hand, learning such things takes more time than I’ve had and my lack of experience is obvious (to me).

Colour thumbnails for the third version.
Colour thumbnails for the third version

In the end, I’m okay with letting this one go. I learned a lot, I got enough Symbolism in to assuage my inner Fine Artist, and I have a better idea of which areas I need to improve.

And sometimes, that’s exactly what you want from a piece.

The Artist’s Way – week ten

Overview

Since my last check-in, I find myself awash with religiosity. Specifically, I’m more active in my faith and faith community that I have been for a long time. It’s good. I’m happier in myself and whether that’s because of this fresh start or incidental to it doesn’t matter. I’ll take what I can get.

I’ve started a new blog to talk about that because I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea and I’m not the proselytising type. There’s inevitably going to be some overlap at some point, though – plants, animals, and the environment have always been Special Interests of mine, and there’s no hard line where it stops being an interest and starts being an expression of faith, especially for an animist dealing largely with fantastic themes. If it works for Miyazaki…

I do consider The Artist’s Way to be the root of this. All of Cameron’s talk about a Creator and how our creativity is our gift back to them and/or them working through us is where it started, so I’ve definitely got something out of this course, even if it wasn’t what I was looking for when I went in.

Morning pages

I’m getting better at doing the pages, even if it’s only every other day. I fired my counsellor in January, and haven’t yet built up a rapport with the new one, so I’m relying on them to figure out what’s going on and what I need to address.

I’m not beating myself up as much about not getting them done every day, but I’m celebrating when I do them and when they provide insight, and that seems to be working. More carrot, less stick

Artist’s date

I took a couple of hours to revisit some characters I haven’t thought about in years. I had to try very hard not to fall into the trap of ‘this has to be perfect/presentable/portfolio-worthy’ and just enjoy the moment, but I still struggle. Character design isn’t something I’ve done for a long time and these characters are so ill-defined that the first big step is to get a sense of who they are, but they’re coming along.

I remember wanting to use them in a comic, if only I could come up with a coherent storyline for them, but the concepts are still fun to play with. An accidental necromancer, an atheist paladin, and an immortal pirate captain walk into a bar…

Verdict

I’m starting to flag, but the end is in sight.

I enjoyed taking some time to sketch without the expectation of having anything presentable. Like when I was playing with the figurines, removing the pressure of making something presentable freed me up to just tinker with ideas. My life is an ocean of stressors, unfinished to-do lists and self-inflicted deadlines right now, and making space to play was exactly what I needed.

The Artist’s Way – week nine

Overview

It took me a long time to read the morning pages. Longer, perhaps, than Cameron predicted (having nine month’s worth of pages rather than nine weeks might have something to do with it, but not all). I didn’t get what I was being asked to do until I did it for the second time, but reading through the pages again, I started noticing patterns.
I’m more confident, “I should”, “I ought to”, “is this how i’m supposed to” feature less and less as the months went on. I still have relapses, but who doesn’t?
Turns out, I also give myself good advice.

I don’t take it, but I dish it out.

  • Keep going
  • Keep making mistakes
  • Routine is a useful tool but a terrible master
  • Aim for effective – elegant comes later
  • Nothing is ever as bad as a first draft
  • I don’t need to make everything a project

My complaints are consistently about time – not having enough of it, wasting what I do have, getting distracted, procrasinating, the size of my to-do list – not exactly a revelation, there. In that vein, the prorities task might be useful if I can make it a regular thing.

The creative U-turns task was brutal. The hits parade of my self-imposed failures. I’m consumed with regret when I look at that list. I suppose that’s the point. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and all that.

Morning pages

Not even going there. This ‘week’ was 49 days long and I did four day’s worth of morning pages

Artist’s date

I’m questioning if I fully understood the instructions given about the Artist’s Dates. I’ve been doing small projects and little crafty things, teaching myself new skills, and trying new media but it wasn’t until after Chrstmas that I actually played about with something.

“Dammit, Sakura, can you not do the Sailor Moon thing right now? The film starts in fifteen mintes!”
“You have failed me for the last time”

I got these hyper-poseable artist’s mannequins for Christmas and I’ve had just phenomenal amounts of fun posing them and making up little stories or scenes. By comparison, planting trees is work, restoring a rocking chair is work, learning a new medium adds pressure to finish the thing I was making. My first week, colouring in, was the closest I came to play and even that was sufficiently close to what I usually do that I couldn’t fully unwind.

This is what Cameron wanted her students to do. Useless, timewasting, not-even-remotely-productive play.
More, please.

Verdict

Nothing revelatory in the exercises this week, but the artist’s date was eye-opening. I’m going to be looking at other totally unproductive play-dates for the remaining three weeks of the course.

I’m starting 2019 with a new slate.
Rereading the morning pages has shown me how far I’ve come and given me some idea of how far I have to go. Okay, so I’m a mess, but all work in progress is a mess. The important thing is to trust the process and keep going.

The Artist’s Way – week eight

Overview

This week has been hard, in many ways. I was on a roll with the morning pages, until I forgot once, and then ten days passed until I got back to it, and I completely forgot to do the affirmations. I’m not happy with how long it’s taken to get through this week; since taking up an evening class, the time I have to work on the weekly tasks seems to have gone down dramatically.

I need to organise my time better, to make space to do the weekly tasks, but also to make time for myself. The ideal childhood and day tasks were fun and I have some ideas of how I can pursue integrating elements of them into my life – when the same desire (structured lessons, more time to do studies and materials practice) comes up in three separate exercises, I should probably act on it!

Morning pages

As I said my morning pages have huge gaps in them where I fell off the waggon and struggled to get back on. My routine had been to write while eating breakfast at work, but as soon as the weekend hit, everything fell apart. And writing t work is dependent on who gets in early and how chatty they’re feeling – but that’s on me, not them. I’m trying to write something introspective in a public place and it’s unreasonable to expect other people not to have a conversation (especially when we’re friends and I am usually interested in what they have going on).

Having moved desks again (the second time in three weeks), hopefully the new space will offer a little more seclusion. My office-mates aren’t such obnoxiously early risers as I am, so maybe I’ll get half an hour to write my brain-dump before I need to interact with people like an adult.

Artist’s date

I leaned about nålebinding this ‘week’, and gave it a go. It’s my first ever attempt at anything like this  – I’ve never been into fibre crafts – but it doesn’t require a lot of complicated stuff – just a ball of wool, a wool needle, and time.

First attempt on the top, latest attempt on the bottom – definite progress is being made in terms to stitch quality and consistency.

Unsuprisingly,  I’m rubbish at it. My stitches are uneven and the one time I tried to make a thing (instead of a chain of stitches), I fastened the wrong sides together and made a Möbius strip. So much for a hat; guess it’s a fancy neckwarmer now! I’m going to keep going. My stitches have improved already and a neckwarmer will be useful as winter draws in. Maybe I’ll felt it to make it windproof (but that’s a whole new skill I have yet to learn).

It’s not perfect, but it’s mine

Verdict

I’m pleased with my new skill, and I love that I’m making something practical for a change. I’m clearly hankering after more structure to my artwork and less charging ahead with finished pieces that are ultimately unsatisfying in their execution. Such morning pages as I wrote are offering a window into my mental health status, so there’s some self-care to do, too.
Although I’m not consistent, I am glad I’m doing them.

If I want to finish the course before the end of the year, I needs to schedule my time better. I’m still playing with new things and kicking around new ideas, so something’s bedding in. I’m aiming to finish Week Nine in a fortnight with a full set of morning pages – watch this space!

Extinction portraits

Earlier this year, the Northern White Rhino was declared functionally exinct after the death of Sudan, the last male of the species. Unless another male is found – perhaps misclassified as another species – the remaining two females will be the last of their kind.

And that’s tragic beyond words. As a kid, I assumed that species that went extinct in the past did so because we didn’t know better, or didn’t care about animals and the environment. I figured that, now we do know better and now we do care, we’d do better at preserving species. As a kid, I never thought about funding, or that governments might be unable, or unwilling, to do something to help. I never thought that people would hunt endangered species because they were endangered. I never thought that conservation is as much luck and hope as science and that, despite all your best efforts, you might still fail.

In my naivety, I honestly never thought I’d see an extinction in my lifetime, but the Northern White Rhino isn’t the first and, unless a miracle occurs, it won’t be that last. I wanted to do something to mark the passing of a species –  the loss of a branch of our extended family – and to do something to help me grok that we will never see these animals again.

So I’m doing extinction portraits. A wreath, a halo, the sun setting on another unique species we’ve lost forever. I’m researching conservation charities and I’m going to be selling prints and giving the profits to organisations that are working to save species on the brink.

Maybe, that way, some good can come out of this.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – part 10.5

At this point, my workbook and textbook diverge. The workbook has a handful more “Gestalt” exercises, while the textbook finishes up with chapters on colour and handwriting. This section covers the workbook.

Edwards starts by getting the student to use an unfamiliar medium – ink. The permanence stops the student from noodling at the painting, but also reinforces the value lessons previously learned.

The Urban Landscape Drawing exercise has the student get out and do some plein air work. It highlighted for me the need to practice line drawing fiddly scenes like trees and foliage, the need to work fast – the light changes dramatically on a late afternoon in October – as well as the necessity of preparing for outdoor work. I came in after 45 minutes, when I couldn’t feel my fingers!

Edwards then has the student build up their penmanship, in preparation for exercise 38, A Figure drawing in Crosshatch.

The Imaginitive Drawing exercise felt tacked on, and the paper wasn’t great at handling the volume of liquid applied to it (most of the preceeding pages in the book are now stained with pink around the binding).

The final drawing was a challenge – a detailled value study  that enlarges a 1/2″ square of the subject to a 4″ canvas. I’m not sure I would have felt confident about this when I started but, after working though the book, I’m up for the challenge.

I think it would have been better to end with the self portrait, working these exercises into the main flow of the program, but there’s still two chapters of textbook left.

The Artist’s Way – week seven

Overview

Another 21-day week, but I got most of the tasks done this time, so its not all bad.

I made cupcakes that i hoped would smell delicious, but my partner just complained they smelled of burned chocolate. They weren’t burned, thankyouverymuch, just a bit odd – but I suppose that’s what you get from mystery dry cake mix and no instructions. They might have been supposed to be brownies for all I know!

The collage was fun – like being at primary school again – and I found a suprising number of things related to my intetests in some otherwise normal magazines. Not everything, though, and a lot got dumped for space constraints.

Collage featuring representations of my interests

I’ve been falling back into some sort of spiritual practice and I attribute it to the Artist’s Way. I’m more mindful of my actions, express gratitude more frequently, and am trying to make a habit of saying small blessings or prayers before meals. I feel better for it – more emotionally connected to myself and my surroundings – and intend to follow the inclination and see where it leads.

Morning pages

The morning pages are still provong tricky. They’re rarely done in the morning and often under the influence of a profound desire to get to sleep, so they’re pretty rambling most of the time. I see myself making excuses and I’m catching myself doing it, the trick is now to turn that awareness into action.

Artist’s date

My artist’s date this week was indulging in a long-neglected hobby of mine – making sigils and reading about various magic(k)al theories and practices –  and exploring how I could integrate them into my paintings.

Jealousy matrix

I struggled with this one! I just don’t find myself feeling jealous so much these days, and I don’t know that I want to force feelings of jealousy, having put so much effort into self-care and overcoming those unhealthy thought processes. I don’t think it’s within the intention of the program.

Verdict

Despite the length of time I’m taking to complete these weeks, I’m making steady progress. I’m building on last week’s lesson and taking chances and exploring things I’d like to do if I didn’t have to be perfect, and found that – once I let go of the anxiety surrounding them – I generally enjoy myself.

I’m still a bit uptight – decades of reinforcement can’t be undone overnight – but I’m happier to openly suck at things.

The Artist’s Way – week six

Overview

Cameron wants us to press flowers and collect rocks this week.

I’ve never pressed flowers, and I don’t intend to start now. Plus it’s mid-September, so flowers are a but thin on the ground, but I found a few, plus some interesting leaves, and took photos instead.

In the same vein, I’m not keen of taking rocks out of the environment. They have a job to do and I’m not going to deprive some poor bug of its home because I think it’s shiny.

Happily, I can take all the photos I like:

Morning pages

I’m still not doing the morning pages regularly. Because time is tight in the mornings, they often get left to the end of the day, which means they often don’t get done.

I spent some time writing about the nature of god, why I can’t believe in Cameron’s Creator, and what I do believe in, then I reread the instructions and discovered she wanted me to write about ‘creative luxury’. This isn’t the the first time the instructions have been inconsistent and I doubt it will be the last.

I will confess to resenting the time spent writing the morning pages, because my brain insists I could be using the tine to do something, as if writing isn’t a) something, and b) really flipping useful.

Artist’s date

My creative luxury is time.

I’m in a very fortunate position where I can afford to buy myself almost whatever creative toys I like (my desires are usually limited to a particular colour of paint or a new book), but actually finding time to use them is another matter.

I indulged myself on Friday, splashing around with Brusho and Inktense pastels and generally having fun. I’m not expecting anything good to come out of these sessions, but I’m allowing myself to fail, and that’s a luxury I haven’t allowed myself before this course.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – part 10

After the skill of perceiving edges, spaces and relationships comes the skill of seeing shadows, of making things appear three-dimensional.

Edwards calls this “light logic”, which isn’t a term I’ve heard anywhere else, but it makes sense – light and shadow obey very simple rules and can be reasoned out logically if you have the knack.

Exercise 30
Drawing an Egg Lighted from Above

“The perception of edges (line) leads to the perception of shapes (negative spaces and positive shapes), drawn in correct proportion and perspective (sighting). These skills lead to the perception of values (light logic), which leads to the perception of colours as values, which leads to painting.

Edwards has us repeat the trick of turning the picture upside down to help break down areas of light and dark into abstract shapes to be duplicated.

Exercise 31
Charlie Chaplin in Light and Shadow

The high contrast portrait of Charlie Chaplin shows us the was that the brain is able to extrapolate from incomplete data. I was thinking about pareidolia at this point – the psychological phenomenon in which a person can see a familiar pattern (eg: faces) in random patterns – but I don’t know if this would apply to seeing a face in a heavily distorted image of a face.

No matter how your style evolves, however, you will always be using edges, spaces, relationships, and (usually) lights and shadows, and you will depict the thing itself (the Gestalt) in your own way.

Edwards touches, briefly, accidentally, on what I would consider to be the most fundamental skill in drawing – that of knowing when to stop. They joke about artists needing someone to stand behind them with a sledgehammer and, on reflection, I can see the merit in that.

The mark of a trained artist is not the ability to stop in time, apparently, but the ability to crosshatch. Most of us start out with scribbling, but once you push through that, your Hatching technique is as much a signature as, well, your signature. Edwards suggests practicing crosshatching various geometric shapes, which is definitely something I could add to my warmups.

Edwards mentions that children begin drawing faces in three-quarter view around the age of ten, when they try to capture not just the likeness of the subject, but also the character. This creates a conflict with the symbol system they’re used to using, as the rotation of the face forces them to deal with asymmetry and the foreshortening of features on the far side of the face. At this point the only thing to do is to draw what you see, not what you want think you see.

Edwards points out that the space between the inner corner of the near eye and the bridge of the nose is a particularly important – and difficult – proportion, and that getting it wrong can throw off the whole drawing. Likewise, the placement of the ear has changed since the profile drawing, forward towards the face – now, the distance between the eye level and chin is equivalent to the distance between the inside corner of the eye and the back of the ear.

Another common pitfall is to widen the far side of the face and then, realising the face is too wide, to narrow the near side, resulting in a portrait closer to a frontal drawing than a three-quarter view.


Exercise 34
Drawing a Self-Portrait in Light and Shadow